July 12, 2020
Christ Church Gardiner
When I was studying the Bible in graduate school, we were warned about reading the parables as allegories with simple and direct moral messages. Parables are meant to be puzzled over…examined and re-examined…mined for the truth they can reveal. In an unusual twist, however, Jesus explains the moral of this particular parable. He describes to the disciples what kind of person is represented by each type of soil or place where the seeds lands.
But while he takes the time to explain a lot about the soil and the seeds—how each type of soil is a metaphor for how people will receive the Word, he calls this story the Parable of the Sower—it is the Sower that is the main character. So what can we learn about God and ourselves by looking at the actions of the sower?
Jeff is more of the gardener in our house sowing vegetable seeds each spring. I prefer to focus on the things that are pretty, like flowers, rather than the things that we eat. And because I am impatient, I usually plant flowers that are already established, rather than seeds I have to tend and care for. Nevertheless, I know enough about planting seeds to know that if you want the plants to do well, you take care to plant the seeds in rich soil that gets the right amount of sun and water. If you don’t pay attention to those details, you’re just wasting the seed.
But the sower in Jesus’ parable seems to care little about waste. He throws out seed that lands on a walking path. Some of the seed lands on rocky ground or in the thorns. And only some of the seeds fall in the good soil and produce grain. The sower is extravagant with the seeds. He doesn’t hold anything back.
I see an optimism in his attitude. He may not be able to control where each seed lands or how it might grow, but he keeps tossing it out there, hoping for the best.
I was feeling a little discouraged last week when I happened to open an email with a reflection written by a clergy colleague of mine. He had a message of hope and extravagant love that I needed to hear and one that I see in the extravagance of the sower, as well. My colleague said, “I see the good in the world and in people, because I believe that is what God does. I don’t believe that God ever gives up on people.” (James Weathersby).
Likewise, in the parable of the sower, I see a God that just keeps throwing out the good news about the Kingdom of Heaven, careless about where it lands and always hopeful that it will eventually take root where it is needed.
And that reminds me of another story—a story I want us to hear alongside the parable of the sower. The Greek word for parable is parabola—a word some of you may remember from math class. “Bola” means to throw and “para” means alongside. Parables were stories that were thrown alongside as an illustration—to give something meaning or to give us something to think about. There is a children’s story, “Miss Rumphius” that I always think about when I hear the Parable of the Sower—a story that gives us something else to think about alongside this parable.
I first heard the story of Miss Rumphius when I worked at Camp Bishopswood the summer before Jeff and I were married. Driving up to Maine from Boston, before the camp season started in mid-June, was the first time I had been to Maine in the summer. As we traveled up 295, I marveled at the beautiful purple and pink lupines that grew prolifically along the interstate. Lupines don’t grow where I come from, or if they do, they are very uncommon. I had never seen them before, and they instantly became my favorite flower and a symbol of Maine for me.
So I was delighted to discover at the nightly read-aloud, one of my first nights at Bishopswood, the story of Miss Rumphius, also known as the Lupine Lady. The story goes that when Miss Rumphius was a young girl, she told her grandfather that when she grew up, she wanted to travel all over the world, to faraway places. And when she grew old, she wanted to live by the sea. Her grandfather heard her dreams and told her that while they were well and good, there was a third thing in her life that she must do. “You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” he told her.
So when Miss Rumphius grew older, having explored faraway places and then settled by the sea, she remembered her grandfather’s words and pondered how she might make the world more beautiful. And the answer for Miss Rumphius was lupines.
It turns out, she was as extravagant as the sower in the parable when it came to sowing lupine seeds. She bought five bushels of them, and as the author wrote, “All that summer Miss Rumphius, her pockets full of seeds, wandered over fields and headlands, sowing lupines. She scattered seeds along the highways and down the country lanes. She flung handfuls of them around the schoolhouse and back of the church. She tossed them into hollows and along stone walls.”
And next spring, lupines appeared far and wide. And this is why I like to hear this story alongside the Parable of the Sower. It’s even more hopeful than the extravagant sower who flung the grain seeds everywhere. Because according to Miss Rumphius, lupine seeds will grow even on the rocky shore. They can thrive in the stony crevices. They can be carried by the wind and bloom in unexpected places.
Now more than ever, we need that image of Hope and unrestrained generosity in sowing seeds—not just seeds that produce the beauty of lupines, but seeds of love, mercy, justice, and humility.
And when I imagine the extravagance of the sower in that parable and in the story of Miss Rumphius, I can’t help but reflect upon my own stinginess—wanting people to be worthy, wanting people to be right, to think the way I do, before being showered with the generosity and abundance of God’s kingdom.
God wants us to be extravagant in our generosity without worrying about who is worthy. To keep flinging those seeds of love and hope with abandon—to open our hands and let the seeds fall through our fingers and land where they may.
Only then will the rocky terrain, the sun scorched earth, those thorny places where we all find ourselves sometimes—only then will those places burst into joyous life.
In this time of sickness, anxiety, suffering, and loss, the world needs a lavish Sower more than ever. A sower who would rather lose a bunch of seeds than withhold a single one. The church—you and I—we are called to be that extravagant sower, flinging those seeds of love and hope. May it be so. Amen.
(Thanks to Debie Thomas for ideas about the extravagant sower–https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2687-the-extravagant-sower)